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News / Comment

17FEB
2016
NEWS / Climate adaptation crucial for power plants and their water needs says new study in Nature
Category: Energy

 

Image: “Image: Ontario Power Generation's Sir Adam Beck Generating Complex. The largest source of Hydroelectric power in Ontario. Picture taken by Adam Beck Complex, CC by 2.0”
 
By Elisa Jiménez Alonso
 

Globally we get the vast majority of our electricity from either hydropower or thermoelectric power plants. In fact 98% of electricity generation comes from these sources. What these two forms of power have in common is that they both rely heavily on water. This presents an increasingly severe adaptation challenge: in many regions, climate change is likely to affect water resources while energy demands keep rising.

A study published last month in the journal Nature Climate Change looks at precisely this issue by exploring the vulnerability of power-generation systems and their adaptation to changes in climate and water resources. The study points out that even though solar photovoltaics and wind power are increasing, thermoelectric and hydropower are very likely to remain the main power-generating technologies throughout the 21st century. Hydroelectric plants need natural water flow to generate energy and thermoelectric power plants need cold water to cool their systems.

Heat waves and droughts could increase due to climate change and have significant impacts on water resources. At the same time global water consumption for power generation is expected to double over the next 40 years. The so-called ‘water-energy nexus’ is thus directly affected by climate change. The extent of water shortages in global energy generation needs to be properly understood in order for the sector to be able to adapt to these changes.

The study’s results illustrate how important climate change adaptation for hydropower and thermoelectric power plants really is. Using data from 24,515 hydropower and 1,427 thermoelectric power plants, the researchers show reductions in usable capacity for 61–74% of the hydropower plants and 81–86% of the thermoelectric power plants worldwide between 2040–2069.

Reducing the climate change vulnerability of power plants and freshwater resources is possible by increasing plant efficiency, updating cooling systems and fuel switches. The electricity sector needs to strengthen its focus on climate adaptation in order to preserve water-energy security.

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Find the study at nature.com.

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